Kathryn Tickell is recognised as the foremost exponent of the Northumbrian pipes. She is also a composer, educator, and successful recording artist, whose work is deeply rooted in the landscape and people of Northumbria. She was born in Walsall, in the West Midlands of England, but her parents were originally from Northumberland and they moved back there when Kathryn was 7 years old.
Kathryn grew up in a musical family. Her mother, Sheelagh, played the concertina; her father, Mike, sang, and her grandfather played accordion, fiddle, and organ. Kathryn’s first instrument was the piano, which she began learning at six. When she was nine, she took up the Northumbrian smallpipes, bellows-blown bagpipes, traditional in North East England, especially Northumbria. She was inspired by older musicians such as Willy Taylor, Will Atkinson, Joe Hutton, and Billy Pigg.
By the time she was 13, she had won all the Open Piping competitions and gained a reputation and following from performing in festivals. She recorded her first album, On Kielder Side, at her parents’ house in 1984, when she was 17. That year, she was also named Official Piper to the Lord Mayor of Newcastle, becoming the first person to hold the office for 150 years.
She formed the Kathryn Tickell Band and released the band’s first album in 1991. In 2001, the Kathryn Tickell Band was the first band to play traditional folk music at the London Promenade Concerts. She has been a professional musician for nearly thirty years, touring nationally and internationally and has released 14 albums.. In 1987, a TV documentary, “The Long Tradition” was made chronicling her background and the early part of her career. Another documentary, Kathryn Tickell’s Northumbria, followed in 2006.
In 1997, Kathryn founded the Young Musicians Fund of the Tyne and Wear Foundation to provide money for young people in northeastern England who wanted to learn music. She also founded the Festival of the North East and was the artistic director of Folkworks from 2009–2013 .
She has won many awards, including the 2004 BBC Musician of the Year. In 2009, she was presented with The Queen’s Medal for Music, awarded to those deemed to have made an outstanding contribution to British music. In 2015, she was appointed Deputy Lieutenant of Northumberland and was also awarded an OBE (Order of the British Empire). The OBE recognises her extraordinary career which has evolved to include many musical genres- from jazz and world music to large-scale orchestral works.